Wednesday, August 03, 2005
US: how can newsrooms shield sources' identities?
Newspapers are currently finding themselves in a dilemma: "After a series of scandals that have undermined their credibility, news organizations are being pressured to be more open in how they operate; at the same time, threats of court action are pressuring them to be more secretive," writes the New York Times. After a scandal about the use of anonymous sources in Pentagon press releases, the Pentagon stated that anonymous sources are prohibited (see Mediachannel). However, anonymous sources are still vital to newspapers.
In order to solve these problems some papers have already changed their editorial guidelines and restricted the use of anonymous sources. The Los Angeles Times issued new ethics guidelines in July saying that "relying in print on unnamed sources should be a last resort", reports LA Observed.
But the use of anonymous sources is still permitted. Therefore papers are looking for new ways to facilitate the protection of sources' identities. The Times for example is "looking into ways of bundling office telephone extensions so that calls to and from particular reporters cannot be identified" reports the New York Times. As the NY Times points out one important question is to determine whether a reporter's notes belongs to him personally or to the company. Some technical solutions, like e-mails that automatically expire after some time, could help. Time Inc. executives are said to think about special portable hard drives so that journalists could remove all their notes from the company's computers. Also the debate whether to avoid a paper trail or keep notes and e-mails etc. needs to be addressed.
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